Learning From Place

Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing is an article that discusses the nature and power of learning from place. The article illustrates the reflection of a research project that was conducted to honor the Mushkegowuk Cree people’s concepts of land, environment, and nature. By sharing the story of the river excursion which joined many generations from youth to elders, the importance of learning from experience and storytelling were conveyed which are two key ideas of the indigenous ways of knowing.

The article explains how decolonization cannot be limited to rejecting and transforming normative narratives but rather must also depend on recovering and renewing mentorship and intergenerational relationships. Thus, the river excursion which allowed individuals from vast generations to travel together and communicate with one another demonstrates many forms of decolonization and reinhabitation. While on the voyage, youth, adults, and elders learned about the history and significance of the river, related issues of governance and land management, and the culture of the community. A key theme was the importance of nature and land for the Muskegowick people which is more than just a resource; it is a spiritual and material place that all life springs from and the cultural identity of the people. The word The large focus on the word ‘paquataskamik’ which means “natural environment” was emphasized in explaining the traditional views of the land. The elders were also able to share many vibrant meanings of the river that go well beyond thinking of it as simply a body of water. The Mushkegowuk people saw the river as a way of life and believe that it has physical, spiritual, and emotional uses and meanings. The river is also used as a cemetery and it is expected that when traveling along the river those who have passed away remain in ones’ thoughts and prayers. The group also documented sites of significance for the community during the excursion which encourages reinhabitation of the land. Most importantly, while on the trip, an audio documentary was recorded to detail the experience of the travelers. Many voices such as those from members of the band office, health center,  and education system, were included allowing for community involvement beyond those participating in the excursion. The documentary was shared with the community and broadcasted on the radio in hopes of reaching a broad audience and allowing their stories and traditional knowledge to be heard and preserved for future generations to come. Reinhabitation and decolonization are dependent on one another but both rely on identifying a need for change regarding the use of land and ways of thinking and the river excursion, which helped members of the community share linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographical knowledge permitted for these realizations to occur.

After reading the article, I realize the significance of teaching from place and being aware of the traditional understandings of the community that I will be teaching in. Acknowledging my position in a given community will require me to commit to unlearning and relearning new perspectives and provide me with insight into the perceptions my students hold. It is important that I recognize my personal biases and remain aware of my own beliefs while being open to change and accepting of new ideas. I must remember that knowledge and curriculum can come from more than just textbooks and government regulated materials and that it is okay to ask for help when I do not feel confident in my knowledge about particular subject areas. Bringing elders and other voices into my classrooms will allow my students to learn from experts in their fields who can speak from experience and provide my students with true understandings. Encouraging learning from place in my classroom will require me to first acknowledge my position in the community but more importantly incorporate significant local knowledge and values into everyday classroom lessons.

 

 

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The Truth About Curriculum

Before Reading: 

I honestly never questioned the ‘how’ of curricula creation, but putting that into words makes me think that as a preservice educator, I definitely should. My understanding of how school curricula are developed stems from my personal experience in the Saskatchewan school system and the little discussion through some of my education courses thus far. I think curricula are developed by a group of people with some expertise or relation to the field of education whether that being that they had teaching experience or not. They decide what is critical for students to learn at each particular grade level and organize these ideas into outcomes and indicators in hopes that all educators are able to successfully cover the outlined topics in a given school year. When deciding what is important, I believe that society has a heavy influence and thus white eurocentric views continue to guide the decisions. I also know that in Canada, school curricula are provincially mandated thus I think provincial governments have the final say in what is implemented across the province. Once curriculum guidelines have been agreed upon, they become the new norm and are executed across the province. 

After Reading:

After reading Ben Levin’s chapter regarding curriculum policy and politics concerning what should be learned in schools I realized my understanding of curriculum development was fairly minimal and vague. Today, curricula are developed by bringing groups of experts together to draft new or revised versions by examining and evaluating current forms of curricula and suggestions for change that have been made. The two big concerns when designing curriculum are ‘what subjects should be taught ‘ and ‘what content should be included under each subject’ and there are various opinions regarding these questions. Curriculum decisions are shaped largely by “ideology, personal values, issues in the public domain, and individual interests” and because everyone has some relation to schooling, their personal experiences in school have a grand influence on educational policies. Post-secondary schools also have a significant influence due to the entrance requirements they have for students interested in enrolling in their programs. Levin opened my eyes to the power of politics regarding curriculum design and thus the influence that the economy and people in authoritative positions have on deciding what should be taught in schools. Levin also pointed out that once a curriculum has been approved by the provincial government, it is not always implemented successfully in schools because teachers’ practices are often influenced by what they know and value, and what is practical for them to implement.

I have learned that I was correct in thinking that the provincial government has the final authority when developing school curricula. Thus, “an individual in a key position can either shape of hold up decisions” despite the opinions of others which is concerning as one person in power should not have the authority to influence the lives of all students and the future generations of our society. The significant influence of one individual shifts the focus from being on providing sufficient education for all students, to meeting biased goals. Often experts in a particular subject area are consulted when making the decisions about what should be included but this can also be problematic because the result of expert dominated choices will only be implemented successfully by other masters of the subject. The reality is that most teachers, especially those with elementary education degrees, will have limited knowledge in particular subject areas and will not be able to teach the objectives developed by experts. I believe what is most problematic is that despite new curricula being developed, they are not being implemented appropriately in classrooms. For example, treaty education was introduced to Saskatchewan’s curriculum in 2007 and yet students are still not learning the truth about treaties in their classrooms. Designing curricula is a political process which means it is driven by the most vocal interests and marginalizes opinions of those whose matter. Levin’s chapter exposed me to the troubling truths about the process of designing curricula and emphasized the importance of considering who is designing curricula.

Troubling Aspects of the “Good” Student

Common-sense ideas have been developed by the dominant culture of society and instilled in us through the varying social influences that we are surrounded by. The narratives tell us how individuals should behave in particular situations and provide guidelines that everyone should abide by despite never being explicitly taught to do so. According to the common-sense structured in our society, there is one and only one definition of a “good” student. “Good” students are compliant, obedient and focused. They sit quietly in their desks, raise their hands to ask permission to speak, and do not question the material being taught. In Kumashiro’s chapter, he states that due to common-sense he has been exposed to, he once believed “learning meant completing certain assignments and repeating on exams the correct definitions or themes” leaving no room for the expression of personal reflections or perspectives. Common sense tells us that “good” students are always present, and diligently meet all the requirements of their assignments on time permitting them to consistently receive high grades. Unfortunately, these common-sense ideas are oppressive and do not encourage students to critically think.

The common-sense definition of the “good” student privileges pupils who belong to the dominant culture and are fully aware of what is expected of them in this context. Those who have grown up with the common-sense beliefs are not challenged to unlearn their ideas of what makes a “good” student and relearn new notions, and thus they are naturally able to adapt to the normative trends.  Students who have a particular learning style that permits them to memorize information and regurgitate it on standardized exams also benefit from the common-sense description. If one requires hands-on work, time to reflect and question the lectured information, and activity breaks to avoid becoming restless, they will be disadvantaged and their performance will not live up to the expectation of a “good” student. Learning for students who were influenced by common-sense values that vary from those of the authoritative culture will also be hindered. By allowing common-sense to control the thoughts around what makes a “good” student, only those who belong to the dominant clique and fit the normative learning style have the opportunity to be considered successful.

The concept of a “good” student eliminates the possibility to see changes in our society towards social justice. The common-sense definition of a “good” student is strictly one perspective and despite having some strengths, the weaknesses are apparent as it insists on compliance and privileges students who fit the norm. By valuing obedience in our school systems, we are teaching students to be compliant citizens rather than encouraging them to wonder, question, and challenge the social norms. Obedience also eliminates the opportunity for collaborative reflection which would permit varying perspectives to be shared and create opportunities for students to learn from their peers. Adopting the common-sense idea regarding “good” students permits students to resist learning things that reveal the problematic nature of an individual’s partial knowledge which allows the troubling normative stories to continue to shine and disregards the need for change. Every individual has some knowledge, but if we are resistant to questioning our personal beliefs, the dominant culture in society will continue to control our ways of thinking.

The Significance of Reflection

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

– John Dewey

            John Dewey was a progressive educational theorist who stressed the idea that education is a valuable experience rather than simply preparation for future life experiences. He believed in active learning and recognized the advantages of being able to personally experience learning. His quote, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience” caught my attention as I believe it is important for educators to understand. Due to taxing curriculum guidelines and time restraints of course semesters, educators often teach their students instrumentally in order to meet all of the required objectives. In a jarring articleRichard Skemp describes instrumental understanding as strictly offering concrete instructions on how to solve problems given specific starting and end points but not providing any justification for the directions. Thus, students memorize steps for the sole purpose of the end result and do not develop a complete understanding of the topic that they can carry with them and apply to other problems. In contrast, relational understanding provides students with a diverse knowledge base pertaining to a subject area that is independent of the end results of particular questions by including valid explanations as to how and why the process being taught works. As Mason states in Thinking Mathematically, “without reflection, practice can wash over you, leaving no permanent marks” (2010, p.136). Dewey’s words remind educators of the importance of teaching their students relationally,  reflecting on experiences and critically analyzing material in order to gain advantageous understandings.

The reflection phase of learning can include many different strategies such as checking for mistakes, asking questions to gather information as to why the steps that were taken were valid, attempting to represent the solution in a different form, considering alternative methods to finding the solution, making connections, or extending the problem further. During the reflection process, students become fully engaged with the material and build an understanding of what is actually being taught rather than simply trusting the educator and memorizing the process. It is human nature to be curious, ask questions, and notice discrepancies and students deserve the opportunity to act on their eager attitudes towards learning. As Dewey suggests, it is only when students are provided with time to reflect on their experiences that they truly begin to learn. I believe that contradicting opinions, alternative methods of solving problems and interactive class discussions can become educational figures that students can learn from rather than strictly relying on the perspectives that their teachers offer.

As a future educator, I recognize that providing students with sufficient time to reflect on their work may not always be easy similarily to how it was when I was a student. Educators are under extreme pressure to meet curriculum guidelines and time to stray away from course objectives and explore reflective thoughts may not always be available. Permitting time for reflection will require educators to be open to questions or comments that will cause tangents in their lesson plans and intrude on scheduled learning. Allowing reflection will also mean that students’ learning will be guided by their own voices and the discussion that results due to the contributions from many members of the classroom. This could result in students learning variations of material making it impossible for students in different classrooms to have the same learning experiences. The question then becomes, is it more important for every student to learn the same thing or for students’ probabilities of learning to be as high as they can be? During these situations, it will be important to remember that although educators are hired to teach the curriculum, they are responsible for their students’ learning and by promoting reflection, we are able to provide our students with the best atmosphere to expand their knowledge.

Mason, J., Burton, L., & Stacey, K. (2010) Thinking Mathematically. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited.

Tyler’s Rationale – Simply one Approach

We are almost done the unit, so I am thinking we will have the test on Friday. There will be a short quiz tomorrow based on the first three chapters of the novel that we have read this week. Books away class and I will hand out the unit three exam. These comments along with many others that are similar in nature are familiar to me from my grade school experiences. Once reaching grade six and beyond, it became fairly common that classes would be structured so that a teacher would discuss a lesson, provide the class with some examples and practice questions to work through independently, and then move on to the next lesson. After completing a set number of lessons that comprised a unit, it would be time for evaluation and a test date would be assigned. This system was present in most classes including English, math, science, and social science but less of a focus in art, drama, and physical education (hmmm I wonder why that would be…). This structure is a direct reflection of Tyler’s Rationale which outlines aims and objectives, provides content and instructions for teaching and learning to be achieved in an orderly fashion, and concludes with assessment and evaluation.  As a student, I never questioned this scientific model to curriculum and I became accustomed to the routine rather quickly so I knew what to expect in my later years of schooling. My future educator perspective, however, quickly notices that despite the familiarity of the Tyler Rationale for students and teachers, it may not be the best way to approach education.

The Tyler Rationale limits creativity in the classroom (Aha, I think I found my answer). Due to the systematic and organized structure of learning, individual students lose their voices as “they are told what they must learn and how they will do it.” Classes such as art and drama are more challenging to fit into the system and thus the emphasis on the importance of artistic ability in schools is lost due to the Tyler Rationale. It also was not unusual for teachers to cancel art classes in order to make more time to catch up on other subjects if the class was falling behind and would not be prepared for the test. As a result of teachers continually working towards finishing one objective in order to move on to the next, I found myself memorizing material rather than fully engaging with the topic and gaining new understandings. This is problematic for students because when they are expected to recall information from previous classes in future courses it becomes difficult when the processes were strictly memorized by students rather than them gaining complete understandings of why the lectured steps sufficed.  Questions or results that would arise due to conversations that were not strictly on topic were often quickly shut down and never credited which diminished students’ spirits to be curious in the classroom. By focusing firmly on objectives and defined outcomes, students become compliant and accepting rather than learning to question and wonder. Tyler’s rationale “implies that behaviour can be objectively [and] mechanistically measured” and because of this, students who do not perform well on exams are being unfairly labeled as less intelligent than their classmates who have valued test-taking abilities.

Fortunately, from both a student and educator perspective, I can recognize some advantages to the Tyler Rationale. As a result of the system’s organized and detailed structure, students across the province are learning relatively the same material thus the schooling that a rural student receives in comparison to an urban student should differ very slightly. This approach also prepares students who are entering post-secondary education by providing them with beneficial practice writing exams and opportunities to develop practical study habits. Because all of the objectives are laid out in great detail, teachers are provided with a plan to know what to teach and students are aware of what is expected of them from the very beginning of the class. The Tyler Rationale allows educators to organize their classrooms which I believe is essential in order to help teachers provide all of their student’s with a positive learning environment.

As a student who was constantly concerned with my grades, I believe I excelled in this curricular approach because I knew what was expected of me and I was able to push myself to thrive. I recognize that not all students are able to be successful in the type of structure insisted by Tyler’s rationale as it does not acknowledge all forms of intelligence. Despite the use of Tyler’s curriculum approach for many years, it is obvious that it may not be the best way to fully benefit each and every student and provide them with the skills and understanding that they deserve. The question then becomes, what needs to be changed and adapted in schools to ensure that they are providing the best learning environments for their students?

Depth to Common-sense

Reading Kumashiro’s introduction chapter, The Problem of Common Sense, expanded my beliefs regarding the definition of common-sense. Personally, when I think of the word common-sense my mind immediately defines it as the things one simply just knows. Through the chapter, I realized that my understanding is not wrong as Kumashiro agrees with my basic definition. However, Kumashiro elaborates on the idea to provide a more complex definition that encourages others to question what they believe to be common-sense proving that there is more depth to the concept of common-sense then I originally thought. Kumashiro expresses how many individuals take common-sense for granted and assume that if something is common knowledge to them then it should be common for everyone, however, this is not the case and this rash assumption can be terribly problematic. Kumashiro then explains how common-sense is socially constructed by society in which case the dominant culture has the greatest influence on the social norms that everyone should know and abide by. Thus, common-sense ideas vary based on location and culture, and only reflect the perspectives, values, and experiences of those who are privileged in society. Lastly, Kumashiro describes how common-sense ideas provide individuals with a sense of comfort as they “help us make sense of things repeatedly occurring in our everyday lives”. Most importantly, Kumashiro outlines how the basic definition of common-sense that I had prior to reading his chapter is limiting and can be oppressive in practice.

Kumashiro opened my eyes to the importance of not simply regarding knowledge as common-sense. For example, an idea such as having a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Sunday with my family would appear to be common-sense as its something that has always been done in my life and by those who I grew up surrounded by. Analyzing this idea, I realize that it is because I am white, living in Canada, and raised in a middle-class home by two parents who worked Monday to Friday jobs that I was able to take part in the normative narrative that tells us to have turkey dinner on the second Sunday in October each year. This is where the problems with the concept of common-sense arise. Society teaches that ideas that become ingrained in everyday life are common-sense and should be known and practiced by everyone. However, everyday life experiences differ among cities, provinces, countries, and regions and within various cultures meaning not everyone’s common-sense is the same and thus I can not assume that simply because something is common to me that it will be obvious to everyone. Another problem with common-sense is that certain ideas that become so routine and commonplace are never questioned nor changed. Humans, who are creatures of habit, become accustomed to routines and feel pressure from the notion that we should conform to tradition thus limiting the opportunity for change to occur. Lastly, the belief that certain knowledge is common-sense can be extremely damaging to those who are unaware of these ideas because common-sense knowledge is never taught but rather it is something we are simply expected to know and abide by. Thus, although common-sense ideas may provide a sense of comfort to members of the dominant culture, they simultaneously cause individuals who are not part of the dominant culture to be outcasted and oppressed.

As an educator, it is extremely important that I am cautious when using the term common-sense and developing expectations for my students. Class, gender, race, and religion along with family life and other aspects that impact the culture of an individual will all influences ones’ personal collection of common-sense beliefs. It is important that I acknowledge the variation among my students and be open to new ideas that challenge my personal multitude of common-sense ideas. I must accept that the beliefs I regard as common-sense were obtained through my personal experiences growing up with privileges living in Canada and I cannot expect my students to have developed the same understandings when our experiences are unique from one another.

Sincerely,

Miss. S